With the Vancouver winter olympics a matter of months away, British winter sports athletes are hard at work training and competing in preparation for a shot of a medal at the games. But with a lack of some of the weather and facilities necessary for many of the sports, it’s often a wonder how a team is put together. The British womens bobsleigh team is an off the beaten track example of how it is done.
Nicola Minichello is a former British heptathlete and driver of GB1 since the 2003/2004 season. Last summer she began a search to improve the strength of the national squad. A usual course of action in high profile professional sport would be to scout clubs and discuss with coaches regarding the potential of up and coming juniors or high performing competitors already within the sport. For obvious reasons this method is not possible in bobsleigh. Instead, Minichello created a list of athletes that she identified, from rankings within other sports and checked their stats using wikipedia and other profile pages, as potentially talented sledders. She then contacted many of those on her list using facebook. This show great ingenuity as a lot of the winter sports aren’t able to benefit from the talent ID schemes run by UKsport…it’s also successful. Minichello and brakewoman Gillian Cooke were crowned world champions in February and the squad are very hopeful of a medal in Vancouver.
Britain has an abundance of talented athletes and while in some sports many miss out on the world stage in their first choice sport by the narrowest of margins, they could foreseeably succeed in other sports they may not have previously considered. The education of athletes that there may be other sports at which they may excel, and the development of pathways to make the transition as smooth as possible may well see Britain become even more competitive in future winter olympics.